THE DELICATE ART OF GIFT RECEIVING

About 2,000 years ago three royal visitors started something which has continued through the centuries. Some say it has gone too far.

Gaspar, Melchior and Balthasar gave gifts to Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus who was sleeping in a manger. Saint Matthew tells us the visitors “offered” their gifts, but he doesn’t say they were accepted. Surely we can assume the young couple expressed gratitude and pleasure and sent the Wise Men away with warm feelings.

Some of us are so involved with giving at Christmas that we’re not very adept at being gracious receivers.

Next Christmas morning when you’re unwrapping a present from the love of your life, glance over at her or his face. Notice the look of anticipation, the nervous smile, the murmured “I hope you like it.”

While you’re fumbling with the ribbons and paper, think of what the giver went through: Making the decision; scrimping and saving; struggling through crowded stores and finding a place to hide this big box in a small apartment.

It’s your turn now. The gift is unwrapped. Maybe it’s something you never had the slightest wish to own. Let’s say, for an extreme example, it’s a moose head. You were hoping for an IPad. A Swiss Army knife or a N.Y. Mets jacket would have been fun, but instead there’s this scary moose head glaring up at you.

What do you do now? Your mouth is agape and your eyes are wide with astonishment. Quick ! Say something nice. She’s waiting ! You try shouting, “Holy cow, a moose head! Wait till the guys at the office hear about this!”

“I’m so glad you like it,” she says. “Remember how you studied the moose heads in the Maine lodge last summer? You said the moose is a noble animal. I got the idea then. It will be perfect for your den.”

You don’t remember what you said at the lodge. You do recall lounging around there and having a martini. You won’t have a den until Junior gets married and he’s in the sixth grade now. But still, think of what she went through to make you happy.

Her present is still unopened, but you’re sure it’s exactly the robe she’s been hinting at. You’d taken notes and memorized the ads she showed you. She will happily model it for you for a couple of hours on Christmas day, but then she’ll ask, “Does it come in any other colors?”

No matter. She will have a good time searching the shop for a suitable exchange. Maybe you can exchange the moose head for top grade fishing tackle.

Gift givers should avoid putting excessive strain on receivers. But there is still room for an imaginative approach. This year I’m giving each close friend a present that is both exotic and traditional. One that’s so closely related to Christmas, it will remind them of the joyous season throughout the year. I can hardly wait to see the looks on their faces when they open the gift boxes. “Holy smoke!” they’ll shout. “Imagine that! A two-pound jar of myrrh!”

I couldn’t afford gold and the shop was completely out of frankincense.

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